"The Power of Being Equal" by Elbe Lau

(Photo: Richard Lee)

During a 7-day mindfulness meditation retreat, I was told that I wasn’t going to learn anything new, but to learn to put old things down.
That’s no surprise, as “letting go” is a matter of common sense and also a major idea in Buddhism, which suggests that life is impermanent – everything is bound to change, and attachment to anything constantly changing will only cause suffering.
Nonetheless, I’ve experienced something new during the retreat – that is, how to let go by being "equal".
All phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;

their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Purity,
no Increasing no Decreasing.

~The Heart Sutra
On the third day of the retreat, the guiding teacher told us to make an effort: try not to move when we want to, try to stay put while we’re going through strain, pain, cramp, numbness, itch, all sorts of discomforts.
I was anxious, I was scared. Before attending the retreat, I could sit still for no longer than 20 minutes. But anyway, I tried and gave it my all.
The first 45-minute session was like a rollercoaster ride. In the same meditation hall, in the same posture, I experienced what impermanence is – I felt unusually hot this moment, and I got chills the next, my upper body soaking wet. My chest and back was in so much pain I had to take rapid, heavy breaths and sit with my back bent like a snail’s. And I kept saying to myself: I won’t back down!
At long last, my first-ever 45-minute no-moving meditation came to an end. Quietly, I celebrated the great battle I’d fought.
But the key to “victory” is not to fight – there’s nothing at all to fight against, and the intention to fight would just create more problems.
Throughout the retreat, the teacher reminded us repeatedly to keep an “equal mind” – known to some as “equanimity” – in the face of changes. On the fourth day, I started to adjust myself: I kept my breath at the same pace and depth, kept my back straight, no matter what. As it turned out, the pain and distress I’d experienced began to ease off – or, I became less agitated by such discomforts. Over the remaining days, I managed to sit through all the sessions in a newfound peace. That’s a breakthrough I’d never expected. No pain, no gain.
Always maintain an “equal mind” to cope with life’s ups and downs – that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since the retreat was over. That’s not easy, I get carried away by my emotions way too often, but I’m on the right path, I know.
Just as a postscript: Meditation retreat is, after all, a personal experience. What happened to me won’t necessarily happen to you. My hope is that what I’ve written here would be of benefit to those who are exploring a better way to live.